As part of an enforcement to keeps the roads safe this Thanksgiving weekend, authorities in Stanislaus County and throughout the state will be looking for speeders, drunken drivers and those who don't buckle up.
Gas prices have dropped rapidly after a spike last month, so the California Highway Patrol expects as many travelers on the road as a normal Thanksgiving weekend. There will be plenty of officers on the road to monitor them.
The CHP's maximum enforcement period starts today at 6 p.m. and continues through late Sunday. Thanksgiving typically is one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, so the CHP recommends travelers leave early for their destinations.
"Allow yourself plenty of time, so you can get there without creating any dangerous situations," said officer Eric Parsons, a spokesman for the CHP office in the Modesto area.
He encouraged drivers moving through the Sierra Nevada to check road conditions with the California Department of Transportation before leaving and to pack an emergency kit with blankets, water and food as a precaution.
Crashes increased significantly last year over the Thanksgiving weekend and resulted in 32 deaths statewide, a 52 percent increase from the year before, according to the CHP. Many of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
"Motorists are less likely to encounter one of our officers by simply wearing their seat belt," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow in a news release. "By not wearing your seat belt, the risk of death or injury in a collision substantially increases."
Drivers also better be sober when they get behind the wheel this weekend. The CHP arrested 1,475 people on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs last year over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Modesto police will deploy roving saturation patrols on Friday and Saturday nights. The patrols are conducted by officers assigned solely to look for drunken drivers.
"This is a zero-tolerance crackdown, so drive sober or get pulled over," said Sgt. Craig Breckenridge of the Modesto police traffic unit. The patrols are funded by a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety.
Authorities also warned drivers not to send or read text messages while driving. Distracted driving is major threat to everyone.
"The best policy is to stay off your phone when you're behind the wheel," Parsons said. "If you have to, make sure it's hands-free."
The Traffic Safety Coalition, a national not-for- profit organization, encourages drivers to pledge to drive safely.
"We want to remind all drivers about the importance of obeying our most basic traffic safety law: Red means stop," the coalition's co-chairman, Paul Oberhauser, said in a news release.
Oberhauser's daughter, Sarah, died in 2002 after a driver failed to stop at a red light and crashed into her car.
"This weekend is about family," Oberhauser said. "Be alert and cautious on the roads, because no one should have to endure the loss of a loved one."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.